AIA Tours: land

Southern India: Temples & Palaces

Tour Dates: January 20-February 6, 2023 (18 days)

Tour Leader(s): Annapurna Garimella ,

Immerse yourself in the wonders of southern India with Dr. Annapurna Garimella, an expert in India’s art and architectural history, diverse religious and cultural traditions, and vibrant living legacies. This well-paced, 18-day tour is the most comprehensive overview of southern India available, and Dr. Garimella—who not only helped design the itinerary and has led this AIA tour five times to excellent reviews since 2004—will enhance our travel experiences through lectures, informal discussions, and special experiences “off the beaten path.”

Highlights include:

  • Many of India’s most important and spectacular Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Islamic, and Christian monuments, spanning the 2nd century B.C. to the 18th century A.D.
  • Seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the monuments at Hampi, Mahabalipuram, Pattadakal, and Old Goa; Brihadeshwara temple and fort; and the 6th- to 8th- century rock-cut Elephanta Caves.
  • Equally important but lesser-known sites, such as the 12th/13th century Halebid temple; and the historical palace and a royal residence of the Wodeyar dynasty at Mysore.
  • A visit to Dakshina Chithra, a museum showcasing the art, architecture, lifestyles, crafts, and performing arts of southern India.
  • Best available accommodations, staying at most for at least two nights apiece to allow plenty of time for in-depth exploration, including a luxurious beach resort in Goa.
  • Five nights aboard the lavish Golden Chariot train and several flights within India to maximize sightseeing time. When we do transfer by land, it is via deluxe, air-conditioned motorcoach to visit important sites within convenient distance of each other.
  • An optional, post-tour extension to Kochi, in Kerala state, including a memorable day and night aboard a comfortable houseboat, cruising through the natural beauty of the inland waterways and tropical lagoons around Kuttanad.

Tour Prices per person (16 nights)
Double Occupancy (11-14 participants) $12,445
Double Occupancy (9-10 participants) $13,245
Single Supplement $5,495

Post-Tour Extension Prices Per Person (3 nights)
Double Occupancy (10-14 participants) ……….. $2,795
Double Occupancy (4-9 participants) ……….. $3,045
Single Supplement …………………………………………$565

With fewer than 9 participants on the main tour, and 4 on the extension, a small group surcharge may be applied. Single room supplement will be charged when requested or required (limited availability).

To reserve your space using the online form, click here.

Airavatesvara Temple, Darasuram © Paul Vincent

Badami Caves © Sayam Bahga

Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai © Madhuranthakan Jagadeesan

Brihadeeswarar Temple © McAsankar

The side of the Mahabalipuram Cave © Streppel

Exterior detail at Belur

Itinerary


Friday, January 20, 2023: Depart home

Saturday, January 21: Arrive Mumbai, India | Transfer to hotel

Sunday, January 22: Elephanta Caves | Mumbai: City overview tour, Prince of Wales Museum | Welcome dinner

Monday, January 23: Fly to Madurai | Gandhi Memorial Museum

Tuesday, January 24: Madurai

Wednesday, January 25: Kadiyapatti | Puddukothai | Thanjavur

Thursday, January 26: Thanjavur: Brihadeshwara, Bronze Museum, Saraswati Mahal Library

Friday, January 27: Airavatesvara & Brihadeshwara Temples | Pondicherry | Mahabalipuram

Saturday, January 28: Mahabalipuram | Dakshina Chithra | Chennai National Art Gallery and Museum | Fly to Bangalore

Sunday, January 29: Board the Golden Chariot train | Bandipur National Park

Monday, January 30: Mysore | Optional excursion to Srirangapatna

Tuesday, January 31: Halebidu | Chikmagalur

Wednesday, February 1: Hampi | Optional excursion to Anegundi

Thursday, February 2: Optional excursion to Badami | Pattadakal | Aihole

Friday, February 3: Deboard the train | Goa

Saturday, February 4: Panjim, Goa | PM at leisure | Farewell dinner

Sunday, February 5: AM at leisure | Fly to Mumbai | Fly home or to Kochi for the extension

Monday, February 6: *Fly home


Optional Post-Tour Extension: Kerala

February 5-8, 2023 (4 days) with expert local guides

Sunday, February 5, 2023: AM at leisure | Fly from Goa to Kochi (Cochin), Kerala, via Mumbai
Monday, February 6: Kochi: City tour, Kerala Folklore Museum
Tuesday, February 7: Alleppey | Embark houseboat
Wednesday, February 8: Disembark | Kochi | Fly to Mumbai | Fly home

 

View Detailed Itinerary

(B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner)

Friday, January 20, 2023: Depart home

Saturday, January 21: Arrive Mumbai, India | Transfer to hotel
Arrive at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (BOM), where you will be met and transferred to our hotel. Overnight at the 5-star Taj Mahal Tower for two nights.

Sunday, January 22: Elephanta Caves | Mumbai: City overview tour, Prince of Wales Museum | Welcome dinner
We pass through the famous Gateway of India and take a short boat ride to a small island where we explore the Elephanta Caves. This UNESCO World Heritage Site consists of a fine cluster of 6th– to 8th-century rock-cut caves. Carved from living rock, the sculptures in the most majestic cave depict aspects of the God Shiva as the cosmic dancer, the androgyne, and the amorous groom. We return to Mumbai for lunch, and later in the afternoon enjoy a short city tour of Mumbai which includes seeing the Victorian monuments and the famous Dhobi Ghat, the world’s largest outdoor laundry. We then visit the Prince of Wales Museum to view and learn about Indian art, including miniature paintings, sculpture, and bas-reliefs. Gather for an elegant welcome dinner this evening. (B,L,D)

Monday, January 23: Fly to Madurai | Gandhi Memorial Museum
This morning we fly to Madurai and transfer to our luxurious, Colonial-style hotel set amid 62 acres of peaceful, landscaped gardens. After lunch, we visit the Gandhi Memorial Museum, housed in a 17th-century palace, which displays a remarkable collection that commemorates Gandhi’s life, including some of his personal effects. Overnight at the 4-star Gateway Hotel Pasumalai for two nights. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, January 24: Madurai
Spend the day exploring one of India’s oldest cities. Madurai sits on the Vaigai River, and its main feature is the temple dedicated to the goddess Meenakshi. Built over the course of a millennium or more, the main shrine stands at the center of a multi-enclosure complex with four gateways that open to the cardinal directions. The city features other attractions as well, including the Nayaka King’s Palace, partially restored in the 19th century and whose remains demonstrate the power and wealth of the Nayakas. The city is full of bazaars, shops, and restaurants. This evening you may choose to revisit the Meenakshi Temple to see the evening ritual of the goddess being escorted to the god’s chamber. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, January 25: Kadiyapatti | Puddukothai | Thanjavur
Today we drive from Madurai to Thanjavur. Along the way we visit the land of the Chettiars, a merchant caste with a long history of trading in Southeast Asia and India. We then travel through the village of Kadiyapatti to visit the local Raja’s mansion with its deeply carved, awe-inspiring doors and massive support columns with interlocking brackets to support a second and third floor; as well as Puddukothai, with its sacred Aiyanyar grove full of large clay horses and riders. Arriving in Thanjavur, we check in to our hotel and have some time at leisure before we gather for dinner this evening. Overnight at the 3-star Hotel Parisutham for two nights. (B,L,D)

Thursday, January 26: Thanjavur: Brihadeshwara, Bronze Museum, Saraswati Mahal Library
Spend a full day in Thanjavur, the 11th-century capital of the Chola Empire. We visit the Brihadeshwara temple and fort, the crowning glory of Chola temple architecture and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Set on spacious grounds and built of granite, it is an impressive structure that was the world’s tallest building at the time it was built. After the 15th century it became part of the Vijayanagara kingdom, and later passed into the hands of the Marathas and the British. Afterward we will admire the small but impressive Bronze Museum with the world’s finest Chola bronzes, then visit a bronze factory and the Saraswati Mahal Library, which displays rare palm leaf manuscripts. (B,L,D)

Friday, January 27: Airavatesvara & Brihadeshwara Temples | Pondicherry | Mahabalipuram
Today we will depart Thanjavur and drive approximately seven hours in the course of the day to Mahabalipuram. In the morning we will stop at two temple complexes, the 12th-century Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram and the 11th-century Brihadeshwara Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram which, along with the Brihadeshwara temple at Thanjavur (that we visited yesterday), comprise the UNESCO World Heritage Site called the “Great Living Chola Temples.” All three temples testify to the Cholas’ brilliant achievements in architecture, sculpture, painting, and bronze casting. We will stop for lunch and a short city tour in Pondicherry, formerly the largest French colony in India. Continue on to our lovely resort in Mahabalipuram, where we have dinner. Overnight at the 5-star Taj Fisherman’s Cove Resort & Spa. (B,L,D)

Saturday, January 28: Mahabalipuram | Dakshina Chithra | Chennai National Art Gallery and Museum | Fly to Bangalore
Mahabalipuram was an ancient port and important center for the Pallava kings during the 7th and 8th centuries, and its monuments are now a World Heritage Site. It is famous for its shore temples and rock carvings that stand on a beach where ocean waves and the sun add romance and intensity to the site. Mahabalipuram has some of the most important buildings in Indian architectural history, and its tradition of carving continues today with the presence of stone sculptors at the site. Next we visit Dakshina Chithra, a museum showcasing the art, architecture, lifestyles, crafts, and performing arts of southern India. Later, drive into Chennai for lunch at a local restaurant. This afternoon we visit the National Art Gallery and Museum’s famous Bronze Gallery, with its 12th-century Chola bronze masterpieces. We then transfer to the airport for our flight to Bangalore and check-in to our conveniently-located hotel. Overnight at the 5-star Taj Bangalore Airport Hotel. (B,L,D)

Sunday, January 29: Board the Golden Chariot train | Bandipur National Park
After an early breakfast we transfer to the railway station to board the Golden Chariot train. Settle in and enjoy lunch and some time to relax aboard the train. This afternoon we arrive at the town of Nanjangud and drive to Bandipur National Park, where we enjoy a late afternoon game drive. Bandipur is known for its small tiger population (the second largest population in the country). Also in the Park are Indian elephants, dhole (wild dog), sambar (deer), sloth bear, chital (spotted deer), and many types of birds. Return to the train and enjoy dinner onboard, en route to Mysore. Overnight aboard the Golden Chariot for five nights. (B,L,D)

Monday, January 30: Mysore | Optional excursion to Srirangapatna
On arrival in Mysore, the former capital city of the Maharajas, explore the City Palace that was designed by British architect Henry Irwin to house the Wodeyar royal family in a florid Indo-Saracenic style that blends together Hindu, Muslim, Rajput, and Gothic elements. Today there is a museum within the palace, and its numerous carved wooden and silver doors, stained glass mirrors, and historical paintings attest to the wealth and prestige attained by the Wodeyar family during their long rule. Return to the train for lunch. This afternoon you may choose to join an optional excursion to Srirangapatna, whose 10th-century Ranganathaswamy Temple is considered one of southern India’s five most important shrines devoted to Vishnu. A stunning example of Hindu architecture, its pavilion is lined with intricately carved pillars. Dinner will be aboard the train this evening. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, January 31: Halebidu | Chikmagalur
This morning we visit the 12th/13th-century Hoysaleswara Temple at Halebidu, a magnificent example of an architectural style unique to the region with its intricate design and intimacy of scale. It is abundantly covered with sculptures made of soft, black chloritic schist representing gods, celestial beings, and humans. The temple also provides a unique opportunity to study temple patronage, construction, and renovation of a time when large shifts in power were occurring in southern India. Return to the train and enjoy lunch onboard, en route to Chikmagalur, where this evening we visit a plantation resort and enjoy dinner with cultural activities. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, February 1: Hampi | Optional excursion to Anegundi
Set out this morning for Hampi (Hospet), a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most interesting historical sites in southern India, which represents the high point of Vijayanagara art and architecture. Once the capital of the greatest kingship in medieval India (the Vijayanagara kings, who ruled for more than 200 years), the city was the center of international commerce and attracted Portuguese, Arab, Chinese, and Russian explorers and traders. This spectacular complex covers some eight square miles, spread over a vast, hilly area through which runs the Tungabhadra River. The ruins are divided into four significant urban zones that contain temples, mosques, palaces, and other monumental architecture. Return to the train for lunch. This afternoon you may choose to join an optional excursion to Anegundi, a fortified city that was founded on the bank of the Tungabhadra River in the 10th century. Dinner will be aboard the train this evening. (B,L,D)

Thursday, February 2: Optional excursion to Badami | Pattadakal | Aihole
After breakfast, those who are interested and feeling up to climbing the 200 steps to access the site may take an optional excursion to Badami, the famous Chalukyan capital from around A.D. 540 to 757. It was an important center of the great Chalukya kings who ruled the Deccan between the late 6th and the late 8th centuries. Badami was their political seat, while Pattadakal (which we visit this afternoon) was the site where coronation ceremonies were held. The red sandstone rock-cut caves and structural temples offer visitors a comprehensive understanding of early Indian temple architecture. Return to the train for lunch, and then set out to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pattadakal, the second capital of the Chalukyas. The site’s dozen or so temples represent the finest examples of Chalukyan architecture. Continue on to Aihole, first capital of the Chalukya kings, built around the 4th century and known as the cradle of Hindu temple architecture. Dinner will be aboard the train this evening. (B,L,D)

Friday, February 3: Deboard the train | Goa
Our train arrives this morning in Goa, the former capital of the Portuguese Indies, and we deboard. Spend the morning visiting the famous churches of Goa—Old Goa’s complex of churches and monasteries is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Church of Bom Jesus contains the tomb of Saint Francis-Xavier and is revered by Roman Catholics around the world. We then transfer to our luxurious beach resort on the Arabian Sea. Overnight at the 5-star Taj Fort Aguada Resort & Spa for two nights. (B,L,D)

Saturday, February 4: Panjim, Goa | PM at leisure | Farewell dinner
This morning we drive to Panjim, the state capital of Goa, and walk through the old town to see the old Colonial-style buildings, private villas, and the fruit and vegetable market. After lunch at a local restaurant featuring typical Goan cuisine, the afternoon will be at leisure to relax and enjoy the amenities of our luxury beach resort. Scan the horizon as you look over the infinity pool, beyond the 16th-century ramparts of the Portuguese fort, and view the tide as it works its way across the Arabian Sea to the Sinquerim beach below. You might choose to visit the Spa (additional cost), which offers massages, wraps, and scrubs using only pure Indian herbs, aromatherapy oils, and all-natural creams. Celebrate the end of our journey with a festive farewell dinner tonight. (B,L,D)

Sunday, February 5: AM at leisure | Fly to Mumbai | Fly home or to Kochi for the extension
The morning is at leisure to relax and enjoy our luxury beach resort before we board an early afternoon flight to Mumbai. Travelers who are not on the post-tour extension will either fly home from Mumbai late tonight or overnight at the 5-star Leela Mumbai hotel (ten minutes from the airport) and fly home early tomorrow.
*Travelers who are continuing on the optional post-tour extension will connect in Mumbai to their early evening flight to Kochi. (See extension itinerary.) (B,L,D)

Monday, February 6: *Fly home
Travelers who are not on the post-tour extension are transferred this morning to Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (BOM) for independent flights homeward. (B)


Optional Post-Tour Extension: Kerala

February 5-8, 2023 (4 days) with expert local guides

Sunday, February 5, 2023: AM at leisure | Fly from Goa to Kochi (Cochin), Kerala, via Mumbai
The morning is at leisure to relax and enjoy our luxury beach resort before we board an early afternoon flight to Mumbai, and then connect with our early evening flight to Kochi. Upon arrival we will be transferred to our hotel and settle in before we gather for dinner. Overnight at the 5-star Trident Hotel Cochin for two nights. (B,L,D)

Monday, February 6: Kochi: City tour, Kerala Folklore Museum
Spend the morning exploring Kochi, including St. Francis Church, Fort Cochin, and Mattancherry Palace. Also known as the Dutch Palace, Mattancherry Palace was built by the Portuguese in the 16th century and features murals from the Ramayana as well as collections of royal costumes. Our final stop is at Paradesi Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in the British Commonwealth of Nations, built in 1568. After lunch we visit the Kerala Folklore Museum, whose collections include pieces of art and ethnological artifacts connected to rural and tribal life in southern India, including terracotta and bronze statues, jewelry, and household items. This evening we attend a theater performance of Kathakali, a form of classical Indian dance. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, February 7: Alleppey | Embark houseboat
Drive to Alleppey, where we board our houseboat and cruise for the rest of the day through the splendid inland waterways and tropical lagoons in and around Kuttanad, enjoying the passing scenes of village life and lush landscapes. Overnight aboard a comfortable houseboat. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, February 8: Disembark | Kochi | Fly to Mumbai | Fly home
We disembark our houseboat and drive back to Kochi. In the late afternoon we fly to Mumbai, where day rooms are reserved at the Leela Mumbai hotel (ten minutes from the airport) until 10pm. This evening we are transferred back to the airport in time for late night/early morning flights homeward. (B,L,D)


For reservations or questions, please email us at aia@studytours.org (and include your full name) or call us toll-free at (800) 748-6262 (toll: 603-756-2884). To reserve your space using the online form, click here.

support Us

The AIA is North America's largest and oldest nonprofit organization dedicated to archaeology. The Institute advances awareness, education, fieldwork, preservation, publication, and research of archaeological sites and cultural heritage throughout the world. Your contribution makes a difference.